UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Presenting the Prince : the Medici Chapel at San Lorenzo and sixteenth-century theatre Wilson, Bronwen


The devotion to theatre during the ducal reign of Cosimo and his successors has garnered an extensive literature. This theatre orientation was prepared for in the first stages of the Medici return, and was a deeply ingrained part of their political imaging. The revival of antique theatre, the emergence of scenography, and the spatial dynamics of theatrical representations became instruments of political persuasion. Theatrical devices and the development of prospettive presented the illusion of continuity beyond the space of the representation, linking the space of the audience with the space of the performer, creating a reciprocal involvement. Spectacles co-opted the viewer, providing the means to physically structure the relationship between the audience and the performance. The viewer could be both a spectator and a performer, sometimes at the same time: both a witness to, and a conspirator in, the production of meaning. The Medici program of legitimization through display was designed to counter the eradication of Medici signs during the republican years and to bolster their fragile position following their return to Florence in 1512. Theatrical spectacle, fueled by Giovanni de’Medici’s election to the papacy, became the vehicle through which Medicean cultural and poltical hegemony was propagated. Through theatrical illusion the family laid claim to the city. The Diamante and Broncone festivals and Leo’s Florentine entrata of 1515 provided events in which the Medici dramatized their claims to Florence. The 1513 Capitoune celebration in Rome was a singular event, discussed at length here in terms of its Florentine references and its connection to the chapel. These spectacles were exceptions to the recurring festivals, thus signifying with greater specificity, their political function magnified. Rapid transformations, fabric Iaçades, wooden arches, paper friezes, and human sculptures provided the illusion that through Medici rule Florence was restored to good health. Through tableaux vivants and rappresentazioni, the Medici transformed republican space into court space, gradually shifting theatre from the public domain into the private dominion of the ‘prince’. At the death of Lorenzo in 1519, the last Medici heir, a family mausoleum was commissioned by Leo X and Cardinal Giullo de’Fvledici. The enclosed Medici Chapel -- its entrance protected from the outside world by effigies of the captains Lorenzo and Giuliano -- positions the visitor as the subject of the space. Surveyed by the captains and an object of scrutiny by the ubiquitous masks, the spectator is simultaneously on stage arid a member of the audience, a double role that permeates contemporary discourses where masks, performance, and disguise are central themes. The argument of this thesis is that the Medici chapel is a permanent theatrical presentation, in advance of the full Medici restoration.

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